Big Blue Nation might reign within the state, but to many visitors, having a brush with Kentucky's signature equines is what makes a visit to the Bluegrass State complete.
Whether you're stopping on the side of the road to photograph a handsome Thoroughbred by a fence or going to the races at Keeneland, there is no shortage of ways to get a horse fix.
Here are a few unique ways to get an inside look at the state's most famous industry and at some of racing's most celebrated competitors.
■ One of the best-kept secrets among Thoroughbred racing fans is that many leading farms hold "open house" sessions during the fall and winter to showcase their stallions.
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While primarily geared toward breeders, most of the open houses are open to the public as well. That gives fans the opportunity to see such recent stars as 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year Curlin (at Lane's End), 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver (at WinStar) and 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given (at Three Chimneys).
Farms typically hold open houses during November and January, when the breeding stock sales are taking place; many post the information on their Web sites or take out ads in trade publications. So go, be respectful of the horses and staff, and take advantage of one of the best ways to see how some of your favorite racehorses are doing in their second careers.
■ The high-profile bidding wars that have taken place at the Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton sales pavilions are the stuff of legend. Better yet, they can be witnessed firsthand.
The Thoroughbred auctions are all free to attend, so if you want to see where racing's next star might be coming from, slip into the sales arena and watch some of the sport's top owners and trainers fight it out monetarily for regal bloodstock.
Just don't put your hand up, or you might find yourself going dollar for dollar with someone like Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. (Note: You will lose).
■ Everyone knows Keeneland for its boutique spring and fall meets and its sheer beauty. What not everyone realizes that the picturesque track is the only one in the country that has an open backstretch — meaning you don't need special authorization to walk the barns.
Not only can you go to the track to witness morning workouts or world-class racing, you can see the everyday routine of a horse's life and the people who care for them.
As is always the case, being respectful of a working barn is a must. Some trainers might welcome kindly fans into their shed row, but no one enters those ranks without asking first. The same goes with trying to pet a passing horse. When in doubt, don't.
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